Football Jersey No 110 for Arun Jaitley, Please

Published: April 16, 2017 13:50 IST
After sterling and cross-party work to bring the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime into effect, it was disappointing that the BJP-led government introduced the GST Bills in Parliament as Money Bills. This allowed it to essentially bypass the Rajya Sabha, ignore its views, and let the government romp home on the basis of its Lok Sabha majority. It was typical of the government's attitude towards the Rajya Sabha, which it sees as a nuisance, and not as a House where the representatives of states and state governments get to have a considered say.

As I approach the end of my current term in the House - less than four months from now - this step-motherly treatment that the government appears to accord to the Rajya Sabha hurts. In close to six years, I have studied the history and traditions of the Rajya Sabha deeply. I have also gone into the relationship that directly-elected legislatures and governments have with the Upper House in other countries and political systems, for even among countries practicing the Westminster Model, there can be enormous divergence. 

Most of all, I have seen so often - and this was true of the UPA government years as much as it is true of the NDA government period - that the Rajya Sabha, with its measured thinking and understanding of the concerns and dilemmas of the states and the state governments, has moderated the excesses of the executive. This has led to more wholesome political debate and, so frequently, more sustainable legislation, in keeping with the diversity and federal ethos of our country.

The Rajya Sabha's views and its validation are important in India. They cannot be likened to those of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom. The House of Lords has consisted of hereditary peers - the children and grandchildren of privilege - and of life peers, favourites nominated by the government of the day to "pack the house". The Rajya Sabha is different. It is made up of members who represent a popular mandate and have been elected on the basis of the strength of parties in state legislatures. 

In a federal system, this is crucial. More than the House of Lords, the true analogue of the Rajya Sabha is probably the United States Senate, which also represents state interests in a federal polity. I know I am triggering another discussion here, for the UK is the mother of the Westminster Model that we use in India while the US follows an entirely different democratic system.

But in many senses, the US Senate is a more useful comparison to make when discussing the virtues of the Rajya Sabha. In a federal polity, where different states represent different geographical, economic and socio-cultural conditions, the Upper House is a genuine voice of the states. The House of Lords was never intended for this purpose. 

That is why when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, leader of the house in the Rajya Sabha and a parliamentary stalwart of so many years standing, mocks the Rajya Sabha and practically dismisses it as a delaying mechanism for legislation, one cannot but shake one's head. Why must we take such strong positions, ignoring lessons of the past and motivated only by immediate political bickering?

As the joke went in Parliament recently, if the Finance Minister were a footballer, he'd be wearing jersey number 110. Many great footballers - Pele, Maradona, Messi - have worn jersey number 10. With Mr Jaitley, it would be Number 110 as a tribute to Article 110 - under which a Bill can be declared a Money Bill and moved out of the jurisdictional purview of the Rajya Sabha. Article 110 is liberally used these days, for everything from the Aadhar Bill to the GST legislations.

I would urge BJP colleagues in the Upper House to exercise the Rajya Sabha's authority as a deliberative check on the executive, not as a deliberate hindrance, but as a moral guardian, even if their party is running the government. We have our obligations as party members, but we have our duties as members of the Upper House and representatives of the Council of States. In terms of the government's attitude towards the Rajya Sabha too, we need GST: Good Sense to Triumph.

Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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